Processing

 
War tent Baghdad, muggy & cramped,
packed with the lost, soon to be lost,
& deer-in-the-headlights newly deployed,
demanded we sweat off arms, legs,
brains,
hopes of becoming a doctor, lawyer,
mother, father, writer, president,
& give away our brothers & sisters,
children,
our promises,
the future,
our booze infected
lives, our duty instructed lives.

We stood naked & bewildered
as our lives drizzled,
rolled,
dripped,
poured
& flew into the sand.

Like Eunuchs we allowed memories,
to be chopped off and taken away:

your third-grade teacher, the first person
you danced with & kissed, never ending algebra
class, graduation, her sister, his mother’s smile,
his girlfriend’s hopeless pot roast, their fireworks,
my favorite chocolate ice cream, that job he hated,
losing your two front teeth, appendicitis, nightmares,
& the bus delivering all to basic training.

They added color to the television, radio,
flavor to the plastic food, & meaning to this war,
they melded with tent flaps, fluorescent lights.

We believed the sand & good intentions clinging
to our bodies that night could be washed off, forgotten,
& memories found like sunglasses or a lost cell phone.

We forgot about the sand.

It is earth—silicon, quartz, iron, fortified with blood,
with the breath of seven billion lungs blowing, changing,
forming—wind, rain, earthquakes,
Breaking body and earth
down,
grinding,
masticating the slivers & nuggets,
spitting them out,
reaching our cells, our DNA.

We newly anointed desert creatures—camel spiders,
sand fleas, hyenas, wolves, camels, jackals,
& sweat,
raised our right hand,
signed on the dotted line.

Stay or leave, live or die, in pain or happiness.
The desert sand owns us. All we once were, is packed
away in conex boxes with the televisions, radios,
plastic food & good intentions.

Waiting for us somewhere in the Green Zone
in the heart of Baghdad.

Winning Hearts and Minds

 
Warriors at this position
don’t have access
to a washing service
or soap and water.
Their clothes are rancid.
Skin crusted
sandy, mucky.

In Mosul, we utilize
a local Iraqi service.

Captain’s
orders: win
hearts and minds.

These Iraqis
clean our clothes
with kerosene.
Making us smell
like old-time lamps.
Funky,
but never clean.

It’s cheap.
Our squad leader,
reminded us
when we picked
up our wash.

Gathering
another heart and
another mind
who didn’t give a shit,
and wanted to strike
a match
and flick it
at our feet.

The Homeless Woman

 
“War rockets murdered me,”
shrieked the homeless woman
from her tent in front of the Starbucks
on Second Street.

Her dog-tagged, unlit cigarette,
puffy eyed, camouflaged face,
accented her tattered Army
uniform exquisitely.

Walking past her sidewalk door,
she grabbed my leg,
causing me to drop my latte.

“Help me,” she begged with leftover
gunpowder breath.

“Nooooo,” I screeched over my shoulder,
“you smell & your war is boring.”

“Winning Hearts and Minds,” was first published in a different form in the chapbook Triggers. “Processing” was first published in a different form in The Washington Post. “The Homeless Woman” was first published in a different form by The Chico News and Review.

About Sylvia Bowersox

About Sylvia

Sylvia Bowersox served her first tour in Iraq in 2003-2004 as a U.S. army broadcast journalist attached to the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul. Her assignments took her around the country, but much of her time was spent in Baghdad, at Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters, which serves as the background for much of her work. She returned to Iraq for two more tours as a “3161” press officer assigned to the U.S Embassy Baghdad public affairs office, and later to the Special Investigator General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR). She lives with PTSD, and writes about her experiences in both wars. She has been honored by multiple Pushcart nominations for her work. Her first book, Triggers, a chapbook of war journalism flavored poetry and prose, was published by JerkPoet Press. Her work has appeared in the journal 0-Dark-Thirty, The Synthesis, Tethered by Letters, Solstice Literary Magazine, Epic Times, Bramble Literary Magazine, and The Washington Post. Sylvia received her Masters degree in English from California State University, Chico. She lives in Wisconsin with her veteran husband, Jon, and her Black Labrador service dog, Timothy.

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